Leave the code alone

A recent discussion around the question “Do tech entrepreneurs need to know how to code?” prompted me to share my thoughts on the matter. My answer to this is simply no leave the code alone! In fact, what should be asked is: “Do I want to be a Tech Entrepreneur or a Developer?”

Being clear about what you are or what you want to be is a basic fundamental of life; after all you wouldn’t train to be a mechanic and then expect to get a job as a hospital surgeon, would you?

Over the years I have experienced situations where staff in an organisation suddenly get the desire to be creative and look to solve a department or company issue by opening an application, buying a ‘Dummy’s Guide’ for this, that or the other and start building a solution, in and around their actual day job.

Initially this might seem like a good idea, as a problem has been solved with no real additional cost to the organisation. However, you run the risk of users becoming dependent on the solution and, before you know it, the solution to the problem suddenly becomes critical to the smooth operation of the department or organisation, which in the long run may cost you dearly in productivity or financially.

My first experience of this was when I was asked to help with an MS Access database. There was no documentation for the database and the data didn’t match the structure, which made no sense at all. Then I discovered multiple copies of the exact same database around the company, with only one where the data actually made sense to the structure. This was the original written by a “hobbyist” who then managed to hack and change copies of the original for other departments with similar needs. This whole scenario caused a productivity issue, as departments had to wait for key important information for some weeks. There was also a financial risk that was fortunately avoided, but could have amounted to thousands of pounds.

Although MS Access may not be the best example, it was simply the first of many that I have seen. It highlights the consequences of doing things half-baked. Imagine then an application built from the ground up, with multiple interfaces into your infrastructure and other business applications and you have no support, documentation and no understanding how it works technically. The person you hailed as a Hero for creating this ‘Monster’ is no longer around and you are stuck, while another product needs to be upgraded to keep it in support and maintenance and you are now at risk of losing half your business functionality, because you can’t guarantee the ‘Monster’ will integrate into the new version.

So the bottom line for an organisation with the part-time coders is: don’t allow them to put you or your business at risk in the first place. If someone comes up with a money or efficiency saving idea, investigate it properly and then make the investment to do it right: in the long run, it will probably be more cost effective and less of a risk to your business.

So why should tech entrepreneurs not need to know how to code? It’s simple, really: they are what they are because the successful ones have incite, initiative, forward thinking skills, creativity and a desire to do things and explore avenues that in some cases no one has done or tried before. They are the people that define the top level requirements and then work hard to find someone to translate into detailed requirements that can then be developed into something tangible that they can then market, sell and profit from.

During this time they will be looking for or thinking about the next challenge or opportunity that will give them the success they crave or that drives them. The last thing they need is to be bogged down in conditional statements, forms and procedure calls.

Developers, on the other hand, have trained hard to be good at what they do; their creativity and expertise lies in translating those requirements into a product that is tangible, marketable and may possibly even make them some money. They will turn the entrepreneur’s dreams into reality and they will most likely be there in a professional capacity to support and nurture their application a long time after the entrepreneur has got his money and moved on to the next brilliant idea and the one after that.

So be a Tech Entrepreneur or be a Developer, get trained in what suits you best or you enjoy the most. Don’t try to do everyone else’s job, as the consequences could be disastrous. Or, to quote Mr Miyagi advising Daniel in the Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hmm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish like a grape”.


Barry Houghton, Infrastructure Manager

Find Barry’s blog onthe Plan-Net website: http://www.plan-net.co.uk/index.php/news/item/169-tech-entrepreneurs-coding-leave-the-code-alone.html



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